Next-of-kin, soldiers and military veterans have paid tribute to the sacrifices and memories of members of the South African Infantry, who lost their lives not only in the major wars of the last century but also in current peacekeeping operations.
Speaking at the annual Infantry Memorial Service held at the historic Fort Klapperkop outside Pretoria, the General Officer Commanding the Army‘s Infantry Formation Major General Lindile Yam, made special mention of twenty-three year old Private Vincent Mthuthuzeli van der Walt who was killed on his first deployment in Sudan in October 2012.
General Yam stressed that the achievements and sacrifices of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) were often ignored. He pointed out that it was members of the infantry who were first to arrive in any conflict zone to stop the trouble and it was the infanteers and attached groups who assisted the civilian populations by building bridges and schools and rebuilding and repairing infrastructure.
The term infantry refers not only to soldiers who carry rifles, but also includes specialists such as paratroopers and mechanised infantry who travel in protected vehicles.
Around 2 000 SANDF personnel are currently taking part in peacekeeping operations, as South Africa increases its role in regional conflict resolution and peacekeeping efforts. They have been deployed in three large- to-medium-scale peace support operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan. They also patrol South Africa’s borders to stop poachers, smugglers and illegal immigrants.
Most recently, President Jacob Zuma authorized the deployment of 400 soldiers to the Central African Republic, most of whom are infanteers. The Presidency said the troops would assist with capacity-building of the CAR Defence Force and will also assist CAR with the planning and implementation of the disarmament, demobilisation and re integration processes.
The wreath-laying ceremony comprised a poignant last post, two minutes silence and the jubilant reveille. Military attachés from India, Egypt and Lesotho, as well as the Netherlands and Canada, were among those laying wreaths. The Air Force, Navy and Medical Health Services sent representatives to lay wreaths, as did various military veterans associations, including the hosts, the Infantry Association, the Council of Military Veterans Organisations and the South African Legion.
Brigadier General John Lizamore, President of the Infantry Association, noted that this was an important year for their association in preparation for its 60th year. He said much of the history of South Africa was written by infantry whether mounted or on foot. The Infantry Association has published a book on the history of Infanteers already; two more are to follow.
The Infantry Association has been remembering fallen Infanteers at Fort Klapperkop since 1986.